An interview with Rita Tabatchnick of Tabatchnick Fine Foods
Tabatchnick started as a delicatessen in New Jersey in 1905. How did the family grow the business to organic soups and foods?
Tabatchnick is a family-owned business that started as a delicatessen in 1905 by Russian immigrants, Louis and Sarah Tabatchnick. Their son, Joe, continued working and building the delicatessens, as did his son, Seymour, who is Rita’s father-in-law. Ben Tabatchnick, Rita’s husband, began working full time for the delicatessens in 1974 upon graduation from college. His background was in accounting and business management and working for a family business, one has their hands in every aspect of the business.
Noticing that the consumers liked the soups served at the delicatessens, he began freezing them, (freezing is a natural preservative) so customers could take them home. He then began formulating different soup recipes that grew in popularity. His focus was on nutritious, healthy, low in fat, salt, and preservative free soups that taste great. The summer of 2014 Ben formulated a new line of soups to meet a need for a cleaner transparent product. Customers requesting products for special diets created a new market. Thus Ben invented a new line targeting gluten free, organic, vegan, non-GMO, kosher, dairy free, BPA-free markets and sold them in the organic section of supermarkets. This line was launched in 2015 as a memorial line named Benje’s Naturals.
Soup is such a comfort food and developing food aid products seems like a natural extension. What activities took place that drove Tabatchnick to become involved in food aid activities?
Ben Tabatchnick ran the soup business quite successfully and has always been interested in nutrition. Noticing that kids were becoming obese and eating poor quality foods at school, and working with the USDA, he embarked upon developing healthy school lunch products that tasted good but were low in fat, salt, sugar, etc. His four children were the taste testers for every product that he has developed.
Today, Tabatchnick prepares healthy food products for school lunch programs across the country. It was from these meetings at the USDA and developing strong relationships, that Ben learned a great deal about school nutrition programs and ultimately, became involved with developing Ready-to-use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) with peanut paste.
Your work with food aid and helping malnourished children began in the 2000’s. Can you explain how you and Ben got started?
Ben became involved with developing Ready-to-use Therapeutic Foods through the USDA. At a French company, which developed “a peanut based therapeutic food” had the patent for RUTF/RUSF and controlled the market. The USDA asked Ben to develop a similar product that would not infringe upon this patent because at the time there were no American manufactures. “Ben returned to his kitchen and tested a number of different formula’s, including using a soy substitute instead of non fat dry milk and came up with ‘Nutty Butta’,” says Rita. He located a manufacturer in Georgia, near the peanut suppliers. She added that the formula was finalized and approved by the USDA in 2007 and by 2009 they were producing “Nutty Butta” for distribution to malnourished children around the globe. It takes 20,000 cases of “Nutty Butta” to feed 3 million children.
Over the years, the Tabatchnick’s have fed millions and millions of children, as they produce about 10,000 cases of RUTF/RUSF per week in their factory in Georgia that runs 24/6. In addition, Rita emphasized that Tabatchnick is the first and only small American business, family-owned, producing RUTF/RUSF.
What are some of the other products that you use for “at-risk” populations?
With regard to “at risk” populations, Rita emphasized that she and Ben developed healthy school nutrition products. They noticed that many of these kids were becoming a “crisis in waiting” due to growing obesity and sedentary lifestyles. They feel that these healthy lunches will teach them to eat more nutritionally-beneficial foods so that they do not become part of the “at-risk” population in the future.
Tabatchnick also has a program for Elder Care Feeding. They make a line of soups with low salt to better appeal to elder feeding programs, and also serve needs through the Benje’s Naturals line.
Does everyone at your company get involved with your food aid work?
Yes, the entire family participates with food aid work. According to Rita, “one of our main philanthropy programs is with the Holy Apostles Church in New York City, which is the largest soup kitchen in the area serving 1,200 people daily.” Tabatchnick donates and distributes soup every Friday for the church’s soup kitchen distributing 500 gallons of soup on “Tabatchnick Fridays.”
Ben also suggested a fundraising gala for the Holy Apostles Church so that they could raise money for mental health services and counseling to help individuals become self-sufficient. Ben’s work with this program, coupled with donations of healthy soup, has contributed greatly to the success of the programs helping thousands of people in need by the Holy Apostles Church.
Sadly, Ben Tabatchnick passed away in November 2014. From a lifetime of humanitarian work, the Holy Apostles Church created the “Ben Tabatchnick Humanitarian Award” in 2015 to honor individuals for their outstanding commitment to combating hunger and helping individuals achieve self-sufficiency in New York City.
The family continues to honor Ben’s legacy by “giving back” through their work with the Holy Apostles Church, their school nutrition programs, elderly care programs, and the millions of children they feed across the globe with “Nutty Butta’s” RUTF/RUSF products.
We all want to see a world where no one suffers from starvation and malnutrition, but until that happens, what are your goals with regard to your food aid activities?
As the question stated “we all want to see a world where no one suffers from starvation and malnutrition.” Here at Tabatchnick Fine foods we want to continue to grow and meet the demand for RUSF/RUTF. As the family continues to grow, with the help of our partners, we will strive to meet the demands of a world in crisis. Hopeful, that the seeds that Ben planted are fruitful and his work continues with his children building on his legacy.
The fifth generation of Tabatchnick’s will continue to work hard in serving those in need. According to Rita, “we are developing not just products to be sold, but the spirit of the product as well.” The spirit of giving back is alive and well at Tabatchnick Find Foods. A company with a huge heart and a role model for many us to follow!
For more information on the company and their philanthropic efforts, please visit: www.tabatchnick.com.